Pubdate: Thu, 24 Apr 2014
Source: Iowa City Press-Citizen (IA)
Copyright: 2014 Iowa City Press-Citizen
Authors: William Petroski and Jason Noble


The Iowa Senate voted Thursday to decriminalize medical cannabis oil
for the treatment of epilepsy, responding to emotional pleas of Iowa
parents with children stricken by seizures.

Senate File 2360 was approved 36-12 after a lengthy debate that
included several Republican lawmakers who warned that legalizing any
form of marijuana would send the wrong message to young people in
jeopardy of abusing drugs.

The bill was sent to the Iowa House, where its path to passage remains
uncertain despite vocal support from some Democrats and Republicans

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, the bill's floor manager, recounted the
stories of Iowa children who have suffered greatly - sometimes
experiencing hundreds of seizures daily - while their parents
frantically searched for remedies to alleviate their children's ailments.

"This legislation responds to these stories in a compassionate Iowa
way," Bolkcom said.

The bill creates a licensing system by which patients with
"intractable" epilepsy and their caregivers may pursue treatment with
cannabidiol, an oil derived from marijuana that has been shown to
reduce seizures.

The legislation says patients or caregivers who receive a
neurologist's recommendation for cannabidiol could apply for a
state-issued identification card allowing them to possess and use the
oil without fear of prosecution under state marijuana laws.

The substance is not smokeable and contains low amounts of THC, the
substance that gets users high.

The floor debate elicited emotional discussion among both Democrats
and Republicans, all of whom expressed empathy for parents with
suffering children, although some had serious reservations about
approving anything associated with marijuana.

Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Cedar Falls, told of coming from a family in
which brothers and a father experienced drug addiction. "This is a
very hard vote for me," he said, explaining compassion caused him to
support the legislation.

Sen. Nancy Boettger, R-Harlan, said her heart goes out to the parents
of sick children. But she worried about how an affirmative vote would
be perceived by teenagers throughout Iowa reading that lawmakers have
approved marijuana oil.

"Ladies and gentleman ... I am really sorry, but I cannot vote for
this bill today," Boettger said.

Gov. Terry Branstad - who ultimately would decide whether a bill
passed by the Legislature should become law - said in an interview
Thursday he could support limited legislation narrowly tailored to
provide cannabidiol to patients with epilepsy, which is what the bill
now under consideration would do.

But he said he would "reserve judgment" until a bill actually reaches
his desk.

"I obviously think we need to be very careful so we don't have
unanticipated consequences and it doesn't get into the hands of people
that it's not intended for," Branstad said.

Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines, who has worked closely with many of the
parents promoting the legislation, praised their activism and called
the bill a small step forward for Iowa children.

Sen. Ken Rozenboom, R-Oskaloosa, said he swayed back and forth whether
he would vote yes or no. Ultimately, he voted against the bill, saying
it was a "very, very difficult decision," but he had too many
questions about the drug.

Bolkcom pointed out that 20 other states have legalized medical
cannabis, saying the Senate's legislation would simply allow Iowans to
travel to states where cannabis oil is available and to bring it home
to legally possess. He noted that some of the most conservative states
in the nation, including Utah and Alabama, have acted to permit the
marijuana-derived oil for sick persons.

But Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, expressed concerns that Iowans who
acquire the drug would travel across other states where cannabis oil
is not legal, and that marijuana is not legal under federal law.

"I fear that by passing this legislation we will truly be setting
ourselves up for some real problems with federal prosecution because
we are just setting up a false sense of security. They will not be
immune from federal prosecution and laws," Sinclair said.

The bill does not allow for the cultivation, production or sale of the
oil, meaning patients or caregivers will have to obtain it in states
with less restrictive medical marijuana rules. The measure contains
provisions for reciprocity with other states that have programs for
patients with epilepsy.

It is unclear, at this point, where exactly patients and caregivers
may be able to obtain cannabidiol given the patchwork of state laws
concerning medical marijuana and the availability of the highly
specialized formulation of the oil.

As in the Senate, a small but devoted group of Republican lawmakers
has helped negotiate and craft the cannabidiol bill now under
consideration, underscoring the bipartisan nature of the discussion
and perhaps helping to ensure passage within the next few days.

Rep. Rob Taylor, R-West Des Moines, said Thursday he's been quietly
educating fellow lawmakers and advocating on behalf of the legislation
for three and a half months. He counted himself "cautiously
optimistic" the measure could pass this year.

If all 47 Democrats voted yes, just four Republicans would be needed
to reach a 51-vote majority and secure House passage of the bill.
It'll surely take more than that, however, for the chamber's
Republican leaders to allow a vote. The majority party very rarely
allows bills to advance without a substantial majority of its caucus
providing votes in favor.
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MAP posted-by: Jo-D